The entrance to Angoon High School in 2017. Until a case of the coronavirus was announced in Angoon on Monday evening, Chatham School District planned to open all four of its schools in-person, full time. District superintendent Bruce Houck says students in Angoon will attend school remotely until August 31, and all staff will receive weekly testing. (Emily Russell/KCAW)

On Tuesday (8-25-20) some schools in Chatham School District opened their doors for the first time in five months. Gustavus, Klukwan and Tenakee Springs are giving students the option to attend classes in-person, full-time. Angoon’s students will work remotely until the end of the month because of an active case of the coronavirus in the community. KCAW’s Erin McKinstry spoke with Chatham School District Superintendent Bruce Houck about the district’s plan to operate safely during the pandemic.

KCAW: One of my biggest questions looking at the plan: Like most plans I’ve seen, it’s divided into the low-, medium-, and high-risk zones. But what I couldn’t figure out is how you are determining which zone you are in?

BH: Sure. It is based on the active cases in each of the communities. So each community is separated by the possible cases. 

KCAW: Okay, so it would be active cases in the community. And are there specific numbers related to each level, or is that more a determination you would make based on circumstance?

BH: So what we’re doing is if there is a case that comes into the community, we will do contact tracing back, to see where it came from, who possibly could’ve been affected, and then make the determination from that point. 

KCAW: Got it. Okay. This plan is district-wide, but obviously every school is different, every community is different. So, how did you make the plan so that it could accommodate the needs and circumstances of all these different communities?

BH: We took it from the point that we had the staff involved, we had some community members. I’ve been out and met with some different community members. People have been really good about sending me their concerns, and so from all that information, we developed the plan.

KCAW: Have there been concerns among parents about childcare or being able to balance at-home learning while working? And if there have been, has the district thought about that at all or done anything to plan or help with that?

BH: We have had a lot of concern in regards to, mostly when we go to yellow. The half day will make it somewhat difficult. So what we’ve offered is if they cannot find day care or do not have that option, that they can have their students at the site for the other half day.

KCAW: How did the having to be remote in the spring go, and what has the district done since to improve or iron out any hiccups since, in case you do have to go back to that model?

BH: So we’ve provided training for our staff and best practices in using the online. We’ve also expanded the options for our staff to use the different programs for them, so that they have more options to use, depending on the need of the student or their class. So there’s a lot of options now for our staff to make it more interactive with the kids and that was probably one of our difficulties of the spring, was trying to get the activity with the students. Instead of just listening, now they can participate.

KCAW: What’s the feedback been like from parents, teachers, community members?

BH: It’s just kind of mixed. We have some who feel that we shouldn’t be in at all to those who think we should all be in, to the middle. It’s just kind of…this is something new for everyone. Since no one’s ever had to address this before, the unknown is a little bit scary. So that’s where we’re at. I think as we get into it and everybody sees all the different measures that we’ve taken for safety, I think everybody will feel a lot better. 

Chatham School District’s full Smart Start Plan for the 2020-2021 school year can be found here. Find links to statewide plans here. Erin McKinstry is a Report for America corps member.